Floored

Firstly, if the Highland Council is still reading, thank you very much for putting the council tax back down to the 100% rate.  I will do my utmost to get the house finished and onto business rates by the end of the council tax year!

David has been in for a day and a half this week and now we have a floor upstairs.

Twin bedroom – turns out that the underfloor heating plus 18mm chipboard (turns out we hadn’t ordered 22mm after all!) was exactly the right height to match up with the 3 x 2 round the window.

Hall – this will be covered up by a cupboard.

Double bedroom

Single bedroom

I had a bit of a scrub at the bannisters, just to see how easy it was going to be to sand the paint off.  The bannisters themselves should be fine, but the understairs cupboards not so much – I can see about three layers of paint there.  Fortunately Mick has a sander, so I won’t have to do it all by hand with sandpaper.

Today has been a sheep-wrangling day – our area is bad for liver fluke, so since my brother-in-law was staying, we took advantage of the extra pair of hands to get them penned up and dosed.  Two brothers looking very pleased with their herding efforts!

They also hung gates in the gateways between the three fields (they’d been removed before we bought the crofts), so catching them next time might be a bit easier, as I’ll be able to at least confine them to the small field rather than having them racing around all three when they escape!

Post-Christmas progress

WARNING:  lots of pictures ahead!

One of the things I forgot to mention in my last post is that the Highland Council decided to give me a Christmas present of putting me back on 200% council tax as of 25th December.  I’ve sent them an email explaining that the house still isn’t done and attaching scans of the latest bunch of invoices and letting them know they can follow progress on this blog, so hello to the Highland Council council tax department if you’re reading this 🙂

So, what’s been happening in the last fortnight?  The stove arrived:

and Pete and James turned up to put the replacement hearthstone in, very, very carefully!

David’s put all the internal studwork back in, has been panelling like a demon and has also replaced all the rotted/woodworm-y floorboards.

We hit a bit of an issue last Friday.  We were forecast gales on Thursday night, not particularly high – gusting to about 65mph or so.  As I was walking down to feed the sheep on Friday morning I saw an SSE van in the village and a flapping power cable.  ‘Wonder what caused that?’ I thought.  The next field I passed was Ronald’s, who lives in the house diagonally opposite Ethel’s.  There appeared to be a heap of twisted metal in it.  ‘Crumbs, some poor sod’s lost their roof,’ I thought.

Er, yes, that poor sod would be me – the haybarn roof had completely gone!

Talking to the SSE guys, they said it looked like it had come off in one piece, bounced off the power cable between Ethel’s house and Ronald’s with such force that it snapped four cables as a result, knocking out power to that end of the village, and then bounced in Ronald’s field, breaking up on impact.  In the picture of the field, you can just make out a piece of wood stuck vertically in the ground to the left of the telegraph pole.  That had driven in over a foot deep.

Mick came home from work and we cleared out all the wood from the stalled byre, finding the chains for tethering the cattle in the process – there’s a selling point!  “If your children misbehave whilst on holiday, simply tether them in our handy cattle stalls…”

And I really must take this sofa to the tip.  Ethel got it for the front room, but decided it was too big, so it’s been living in a cattle stall ever since.

Anyway, the hay is all safe and sound, the wood is in the roofless hay barn and we’ll get a new roof on it once Mick has decided whether or not he’s going to rebuild the front wall, which is bowing out a bit.  Back to the house.

David, bless him, came over on Saturday to finish the last little bits he needed to get done before the heating team started.  I am LOVING the way the bedroom alcoves have turned out – how’s this for a bedroom with a view?

Derek turned up on Monday with his team and Dougie was on hand to wire up the manifold.  Heating is now going in 🙂

Holes are starting to appear for sockets and switches.

And once the pipework is done for the bathroom, the last bit of plasterboarding can be done.

So it’s just finish the heating, get the floor down, install the kitchen and bathroom, decorate it and make a garden.  Easy-peasy, right??

Let there be paint

“You need Magnus,” said Pete the Roofer, when I double-checked with him that I’d understood all the stages I needed to go through to paint the outside of the house.  Magnus has an air-free paint spraying system that does a beautiful job on houses and was subsequently recommended to me by two more people, but I was also warned that he was very busy and could afford to pick and choose what jobs he took on.  Well, I got his number, tried to call him, got thwarted by a dodgy mobile signal, sent him a text – and this evening got one back saying he’d been to have a look and was interested in doing the job, weather permitting 😀  (Maybe word has spread about the cake!)  He asked me what colour from the Sandtex range I’d like:

sandtex-masonry-paint-colours

White paint is traditional, but Mick and I agreed a while back that if we went for Brilliant White, with it facing east we’d probably blind the two houses opposite until midday in summer, so wanted something a bit warmer, but not too yellow.  Out of the ones above, Cotton Belt is my top pick, but if Ivory Stone works out significantly cheaper due to it being available in 10l cans, then I can live with it!  Magnus has warned me we’re going to need about 160 litres to paint the whole house, so £35 for a 10l can versus £20 for a 5l can is a saving of £80.  Of course, the other way of looking at it is it’s only £80 more to have the colour I really like…  We’ll see what the quote comes in at 🙂

ERG came on Friday and it was the surveyor who’d come in initially to measure up rather than the fitter, I’d misheard his name when he rang.  We cleared up the slight confusion caused during his first visit when he’d thought I was simply the keyholder for the house rather than the owner, and he’s gone back to ERG with my proposal that rather than paying my joiner’s estimate, which I was never expecting them to do in the first place, they simply remove from the invoice the amount allocated to finishing off the insides – I’m sure they must be able to calculate the materials and labour cost for that.  Jeff helpfully told me that in future, if I find myself pulling apart a house on another project, I can ask for a first fix quote, which I wasn’t aware they did.

The Howdens kitchen designer was on holiday until yesterday, but I dropped my drawing off on Saturday so it was there waiting for him and was very chuffed to be told it was one of the best drawings they’d been given – usually they get something scribbled on the back of an envelope!  It was clear enough that the guy who took it thought the lady who helped out by drawing up the plans would be able to get started, so I’ll call in tomorrow when I’m in town and see how they’re getting on, as Dougie is now running out of things to do until David and Derek move forwards with the framing and pipework, and having the official kitchen plan would mean that he could finalise the wiring in there.  He made an heroic effort single-handed at the Kentish apple cake on Tuesday after Derek got diverted to another job!

Travis Perkins delivered some plyboard today, which is for putting down over the top of the underfloor heating when it goes in, so we won’t squash the insulation by treading on it directly but don’t have to lay the engineered wood floor while we’re still making a huge mess.  The delivery guys were fab and even had the good grace to tell me I was the first person to make the joke about their hi-vis jackets, though I suspect I wasn’t (when you spot one of them has ROBIN printed in large letters on the back of his, you naturally ask the other if his says BATMAN, right??  It didn’t, it was GARY, but I’d be getting a marker pen out if I was him!).

I had a nice friendly email from the Council Tax people today explaining what I needed to do to get the bill back down to 100% from 200%, so I’ve gathered up all the invoices from the last month, scanned them into a PDF and emailed them back with a list of what we still need to do, when we expect it to be done by and an open invitation to inspect the property any time they like.  Fingers crossed they issue me with a revised bill.

Council tax catastrophe!

I had a pile of post to open today and one of the letters was from the Highland Council.  “Oh good,” I thought.  “They got my email about extending the 50% council tax discount because the house was still uninhabitable.”

Yes, they did – and it made them look at their records and realise that the house had now been unoccupied for more than 12 months which has triggered their punitive 200% council tax rate!!  So I have a bill for £1,121 for council tax and water rates between September and the start of the next council tax year.  Ouch.

I have one hope of getting it reversed.  On the council’s website is a Long Term Empty Property Discretion Application Form and one of the allowable reasons for the 200% charge being delayed for up to 12 months is:

The owner is finishing renovations prior to moving in or selling or letting and can demonstrate that these works are progressing

I’ve filled it out and tomorrow I’ll photocopy the completion statement for the roof, the interim invoice for the rewiring and the quote for the new heating system, explain it still has no kitchen or bathroom and invite them to visit any time they like and with a bit of luck I’ll at least be able to pay normal council tax rather than double.

Anyway, onto happier things.  Derek, David and Dougie all came over on Tuesday morning and we had a very productive 45 minutes.  We’ve ended up agreeing that the best thing to do is take the heating manifolds out of the kitchen altogether.  They’re going to go on the landing, in the same cupboard that will hide the electricity cupboard.  It means the landing will seem very narrow, because the cupboard will run the length of it, but it’s going in space you couldn’t walk in anyway because of the roof slope, and it means I can put a carousel in the corner unit in the kitchen rather than having to put a false back in for the heating stuff.  So Derek will be back on Tuesday to start running pipes through the joists.

While they were here, Dougie and David measured up the kitchen and came to an agreement about where the stud wall would be and therefore how much space I had to put kitchen units in.  I’ve spent this evening redrawing the design to fit and will give Howdens a ring in the morning to see if we can pop in on Saturday and just talk it through with someone.

Pipework on Tuesday means that we need to get that Quinn Therm cleared out of the living room, so we’ve been working down there in the evenings again.  My job was to take out the last remaining bits of plasterboard in the bathroom and I found a lovely wooden lintel.

156-armadale-bathroom-7

Mick has been carefully cutting and fitting the 100mm Quinn Therm into the roof, but had a quick practice with one sheet of 25mm in the kitchen.  Bye-bye fireplace….

156-armadale-kitchen-22 156-armadale-bedroom-one-25 156-armadale-bedroom-one-26

David gave me his estimate for doing the window sills and I think there may have been some coughing and spluttering at ERG’s end (to be fair, I think it included some work that ERG wouldn’t have done) because I have one of the fitters coming up in the morning to have a look and see what needs doing.

Holiday letting – council tax or business rates?

Money

No, sorry, I still haven’t bought the house!  I did email my solicitor last Monday to find out if there was a chance of getting the keys before Christmas, but haven’t had a reply yet, so hopefully that’s still a ‘Maybe’ rather than a ‘No’!

However, what I have been doing is looking into some of the things that are going to affect how much I earn from my holiday cottage and one of the main things I was a bit confused about is whether a holiday letting property is subject to council tax or business rates.

Disclaimer – I am not an expert and the below might be wrong!

From what I can figure out, and please remember that I’m looking specifically at the law for Scotland here, it all boils down to how many days the house is available for and how many it’s actually let for.  The Scottish Government website is actually very helpful on the subject if you do a bit of digging.  So, on this page, it says that if my holiday cottage is available to let for 140 days a year or more (which it will be – that’s only 20 weeks), then it will be rated as a self-catering property and liable to business rates.

The next burning question I wanted answered was how much is it going to cost me?  Given that the council tax for our house is £113 a month (which does include water rates), I was pretty sure it was going to be more.  I dug further and discovered that the local assessor will give me a rateable value for the house upon which I then have to pay the poundage rate, which for 2015/16 is 48p in the pound.  At this point I was getting slightly worried – was that related to the value of the house?  Surely they couldn’t be expecting me to fork out tens of thousands a year?

Fortunately not.  I then found this EXTREMELY useful document on how ratable values for self-catering cottages (or castles!) are worked out.  It’s dated 2004, so I’m not sure if the values are still in use, but it gives me some idea and based on the house sleeping 5, done to an H1 standard, and being in a remote (P) location, that would give us a ratable value of £1,025 – and that roughly tallies with the information I found on the SAA website that a 2-bed holiday cottage on the other side of the bay has a rateable value of £800..  So 48p in the pound means £492 a year in business rates, way lower than council tax.  Result!

Then it got even better.  It turns out that the Highland Council has something called the Small Business Bonus Scheme, which, if I understand it correctly, means that businesses with a total ratable value of up to £10,000 get 100% relief from rates – so I will pay nothing at all!

However, business rates don’t include water or refuse collection and I’ve been struggling to find out what I’ll have to pay for those.  I’ve found an old PDF on the Highland Council website which seems to suggest that for a normal domestic 240l wheelie bin collected from household premises in 2010/11, it was £3.43+VAT per collection for a refuse bin and £1.64+VAT per collection for a recycling bin, but I can only see current prices if I apply for a collection. I am completely flummoxed by what happens about the water, I think I’ll have to ring up Scottish Water and ask!  All in all, it does look like I’m going to be better off on business rates.